This study is based on my personal interest in the textile industry in Zibo City, Shandong Province, People's Republic of China (PRC). Zibo has a long history in textile manufacturing, especially in silk and cotton production. With the dramatic reformation of the Chinese economy since 1978, textile and clothing exports have become major traded goods between China and other countries. As a major textile production centre in China, the Zibo textile and clothing industry had an annual gross value of output in 2009 of 25 billion CNY ($US 3.9 billion) (GOSPC 2009).
To achieve these results, the textile and clothing industries in Zibo have undergone continuing radical change over the past three decades. The current industry has made Zibo competitive in the world textile markets. However, with the government's recognition of and emphasis on "Energy Conservation and Emission Reduction"– (Wen 2007), new challenges to the industry's long-term sustainability have arisen in recent years. The industry has been urged by China's central government to shift to a more sustainable stage by producing "green"– products, which are environmentally friendly with low energy and water use, and produced at the same comparable low cost as existing products. Meanwhile, there are concerns both domestically and internationally about the possibility of non-tariff barriers (NTBs) being imposed on imports of textile products. These could include strict evaluation, authorisation, and restriction on chemicals used, and more scrutiny of their environmental impacts and the overall environmental footprints of the industry. These challenges mean that this export-based industry needs to transform itself or evolve to satisfy the demands for sustainable goods in the world market.
Sustainable development, a concept which has arisen in western society, has gained world recognition and is proposed to be a strategy that will work for every people, industry, and country. This study finds out that the concept is not a brand new term for the Chinese. A similar concept, â€•harmonious developmentâ€–, has been recognised in China for over two thousand years. This was evidenced during the field work from all the informants. At present, the administration of China still uses the concept to propose improvements for the impacts on the environment and social circumstances brought by the rapid economic development in last 30 years.
Meanwhile, the administration is also seeking institutional changes to adapt and improve conditions in the aftermath for extremely rapid economic growth, and the focus is especially on social conflicts and environmental impacts.
This study learns from the history recent of commercial, agricultural, and institutional changes to find out the pattern of Chinese social changes. It shows that in every change since 1949 leader plays a critical role. The leader's decision affects the whole hierarchy. For example, Mao's social movement in the Cultural Revolution, Deng's economic development in the Open and Reform policy, Jiang's succession of Deng refined this, and Hu's social stability in Building Harmonious Society all represent change within the continuity of the leading role of the Communist Party of China (CPC). From a micro angel, the Secretary of Zibo CPC and Mayor of Zibo City, their focus on pollution control has pushed lots of companies in the city to improve their equipment, or shut down. Thus, in order to tackle how to be sustainable in the Zibo textile industry, a leader is needed. During the field work, managers and government officials expected the industrial association, the Zibo Textile Association, would take this role. Though informants have the common view, there are different understandings in the formation and function of the association. A model of semi government-organised industrial associations emerging to solve the inconsistencies between the two groups of stakeholders, industry and government, is not new in China but also not kept pace with change, this is certainly the case in Zibo. The study revealed that there is also a good model for the Zibo Textile Association to learn from, namely the Taiwan Textile Federation.
With the industrial association's potential capacity to mobilise and utilise social capital, knowledge capital, and regulations inside the industry, a sustainable textile industry in Zibo could be achieved while allowing the industry to adapt to sustainability goals in the Chinese context. The study has made a significant contribution to adaptive, sustainable textile industrial policy-making in Zibo, China. Using the ancient Silk Road as a metaphor, this study seeks, through new insights, to set a route to constructing a Sustainable Silk Road for Chinese textile trading in the new era.